A study of romantic couples in Hungary has found that romantic partners who coordinated with each other in pursuit of their personal goals were more likely to make progress in attaining them. in addition, partners who made progress in attaining life goals were more satisfied with their lives. The study was published in the International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology.
People have different life goals. They may strive to be promoted, to go on a dream vacation, lose weight, be good parents to their children, good partners to their loved ones or a number of other things. Whatever the goals are, their pursuit shapes how people experience their lives.
For the pursuit of personal goals, support of close others, especially romantic partners, is very important. However, few studies have examined this relationship. A theoretical expectation is that partners will be more successful in attaining their personal goals when they manage to align their resources relevant for the goal.
This process is called goal coordination and it is a part of a virtuous circle – when individuals feel that their goals are progressing well, they are more positive and supportive of their partner helping them progress towards attaining their goals. In this way partners support each other in achieving their goals, while becoming better partners and being more satisfied with their relationship and their lives.
Study author Orsolya Rosta-Filep and her colleagues wanted to examine in detail the relationship between emotional support for the partner and aspects of goal coordination – communication about personal goals and cooperation between partners in attaining such goals. They expected that if partners coordinate about achieving goals, it will facilitate the attainment of those goals and, in turn, improve their life satisfaction.
Participants were 215 heterosexual couples from Hungary. They were recruited by a survey company. Couples were required to be between 25 and 65 years old, living together for at least a year, and without any psychiatric disorders in the previous 5 years. Also, at least one of the partners was required to be working. The mean age of couples was 40 years. They were, on average, 17 years together. 70% had at least one biological child and a bit more than a half were formally married.
Participants completed assessments twice – at the start of the study and one year later. They completed an assessment of goal-related personal and relationship experiences (an adapted version of the Little’s Personal Project Assessment procedure). At the start of the study, the researchers asked participants to generate a list of personally important projects (“the goals and strivings that you are currently working on in your everyday life”). After that, the participants selected the four most relevant projects from the list and rated individual and relational needs and experiences related to the project.
At this point, the participants also evaluated how well they and their partner coordinate their efforts and resources regarding each of the four selected projects. The researchers asked them about their communication (“How frequently do you communicate with your partner about this project?”), cooperation (“How frequently do you cooperate with your partner on this project?”) and the partner’s perceived emotional support (“My partner supports me emotionally [e.g., accepting, caring] in this project.”)
One year later, the participants evaluated how much they progressed with each of the four projects (“How far have you progressed with this project?”, “How successful were you in the accomplishment of this project?”, “Taken together, how satisfied are you with the way things have gone with this project over the past year?”). They also completed an assessment of life satisfaction (the Satisfaction With Life Scale) both at the start of the study and one year later.
The results showed that couples that coordinated more on their personal goals had higher goal attainment. This higher goal attainment was, in turn, associated with better life satisfaction. However, goal coordination alone was not associated with life satisfaction. Individuals whose partners were more successful in attaining their goals also tended to be more satisfied with their lives. Life satisfaction showed a degree of stability between the two assessments.
“Our results emphasize the importance of efficiency in goal coordination, as the effort only might be insufficient for life satisfaction. If partners feel that their goals are supported by their spouses, they might temporarily feel better, but this will persevere as long-term life satisfaction only if their goal coordination efforts are fruitful: when they can genuinely flourish together. In practice, it might be highly beneficial to examine not only whether the couple coordinates their resources surrounding each other’s goals, but also facilitate the efficiency of their efforts,” the researchers concluded.
The study makes an important contribution to the scientific understanding of couple interactions. However, it also has limitations that need to be taken into account. Notably, the study design did not allow the researchers to test whether the relationship between life satisfaction and goal coordination might be circular – that couples who are more satisfied with their lives are also better at coordinating their goals. Additionally, all participants were Hungarians. Results on other cultures might not be the same.
The paper, “Flourishing Together: The Longitudinal Effect of Goal Coordination on Goal Progress and Life Satisfaction in Romantic Relationships”, was authored by Orsolya Rosta‑Filep, Csilla Lakatos, Barna Konkolÿ Thege, Viola Sallay, and Tamás Martos.